‘First Fig’ – Edna St.Vincent Millay

[  # 80 of My Favourite Short Poems  ]

emillay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American poet and playwright who was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1892.  I have used a short poem of  hers before in this series – in November of 2017, q.v. . . .    ‘What Lips My Lips Have Kissed’ .

This poem is even shorter, but I find that it does have a  lot to say, about her own lifestyle and about the times and the milieu which she inhabited in her heyday in 1920s New York.   Millay titled the book in which this poem was published A Few Figs From Thistles, and this poem was the first one in the book, hence ‘First Fig’.

The poem is highly symbolic and the opening line plunges the reader into that arresting metaphor which she uses to describe her wild, bohemian, certainly unorthodox spirit.   The second line, however, recognises the ephemeral nature of such an existence with the bitter-sweet ‘It will not last the night’.  She is acknowledging that brightness is not all, a candle burning simultaneously from both ends will burn twice as quickly and such hedonistic times will not last.

bar-green

Figs from Thistles: First Fig

 

My candle burns at both ends;

   It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

   It gives a lovely light!

 

2-ended candle

 

bar-green

Advertisements

Am I a POET?

 

calliope

CALLIOPE: the muse who presides over eloquence and epic poetry; 

Am I a POET?

I’m a poet!  Who are you?
Are you a Poet, too?
 
Do I write poetry?
I say I do;
But is it poetry I write?
What say you?

 Was it by sweated brow,
By haunted vision,
I overcame my indecision?

 Did Damascene insights,
Or inspiration’s muse,
Give birth
To my poetic views?

 This begs the question
Long undecided:
Am I a Poet,
Famed or derided?


 

I wrote a poem the other day,
or was it just words
in a different order,
pretending
to have their own reason for existence?

Such feelings are
The price I pay;
when I say
I am a poet
am I honest,
do I really know it?

Addressing myself
I’ve learned to ask,
and every time I pen a poem
I set myself this very task . . .


Can I really
hand on heart
claim to be
a tiny part
of all those great
illustrious sages
who’ve coloured
life’s dramatic pages
in epics, sonnets,
ballads and odes,
presenting prose
in verbal codes,
fantasising fecund dreams,
massaging thoughts and wild ideas,
composing their Byronic idylls,
word music of the spheres?

The net result,
always the same,
I know I’ll have
no claim to fame.

Such images,
they prove to me,
that shallow thoughts,
marshmallow words,
can never in a thousand years,
however many sweated tears,
make me one of their poetic peers.

 


 

Poets Corner

 

 

John Clare – ‘I AM’

[  # 74 of My Favourite Short Poems  ]

John_Clare

 

John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet.   Born in Northamptonshire, he was the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and for regularly expressing sorrows at its disruption.   His poetry underwent major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is now often seen as one of the important 19th-century poets.   His biographer, Jonathan Bate, states that Clare was “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced.  No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self.”  Many of his poems are filled with a joy he experienced in nature and the countryside.  Sadly, however, for the last 25 years of his life Clare suffered from mental illness and was incarcerated in a mental institution.   In this wistful soul-searching poem, described by some as “one of the greatest poems of sheer despair ever written”, Clare spills out his desolation and detachment from a life which he would dearly love to have lived . . . 

‘I AM’ . . .  by John Clare

 

I AM! yet what I am who cares, or knows? 
My friends forsake me, like a memory lost.
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.         5
And yet I am—I live—though I am toss’d.
 
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys,
But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem         10
And all that’s dear. Even those I loved the best
Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest.
 
I long for scenes where man has never trod—
For scenes where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,         15
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie,
The grass below; above, the vaulted sky.

 

Banner3b

U. A. Fanthorpe – ‘ATLAS’

 [  No.72 of my favourite short poems  ]

 

After all the recent talk of LOVE surrounding VALENTINE’s DAY, here is a very down-to-earth poem by what we could perhaps call a no-nonsense down-to earth poet,  U.A.Fanthorpe. 

Born in 1928, Ursula Askham (normally using just her initials, U.A.), Fanthorpe, died, aged 79, in 2009, near her home in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.  After studying at Oxford University, she went on to teach English at  Cheltenham Ladies’ College for sixteen years, before giving up teaching.  She was aged 50 before her first collection of poems was published, having noted, quite precisely, that “On 18 April 1974 I started writing poems”.  She was later made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded a CBE in 2001 for services to poetry.  In 2003 she received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Perhaps her best known poem is ‘Atlas’.  The poem presents a far-from-romantic view of LOVE.  Certainly a positive, worthwhile, and all the more powerful for that, view of the realities of a truly loving relationship . . . 

atlas

‘Atlas’

‘ATLAS’ . . . by U. A. Fanthorpe

 

There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.

 


UA Fanthorpe, from ‘Safe as Houses’ (Peterloo Poets, 1995)


 

fanthorpe

 

scroll2

Wendy Cope: ‘The Uncertainty of the Poet’

[  No.68 of my favourite short poems  ]

The uncertainty which afflicts many poets concerning their right to call themselves such, is perhaps illustrated in this ‘Vimrod’ cartoon to be found on the lastlemon.com website, and further expressed in Wendy Cope’s delightful short poem, below . . .

Vimrod-I am a Poet

The indecision which afflicts so many of us, leaves us, as in the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem, still insecure, unsure of ourselves and our abilities, and certainly ‘uncertain’.  But the need to press on remains, regardless of our doubts, and that is what tells me we must have something of the poet in us.

sline6

 

‘The Uncertainty of the Poet’  by  Wendy Cope

 

I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.

I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.

I am a poet of bananas.
I am very fond.

A fond poet of ‘I am, I am’ –
Very bananas.

Fond of ‘Am I bananas?
Am I?’ – a very poet.

Bananas of a poet!
Am I fond? Am I very?

Poet bananas! I am.
I am fond of a ‘very’.

I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?

sline6

Vimrod – as explained on Wikipedia:

Vimrod is a cartoon character created by Lisa Swerling & Ralph Lazar.  Vimrod is best known for its greetings cards, which sell worldwide in the millions, and books, which are published by Harper Collins and Andrews McMeel / Universal press Syndicate.

sline6

Derek Walcott … ‘Love After Love’

(No.65 of my favourite short poems)

LoveAfterLove

‘Love After Love’ – Created with ‘Word Art’ … WHB – 2017 

Sir Derek Alton Walcott was born in the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia in 1930.  Although a widely respected painter, he is best known as both a poet and playwright.  He received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature. He was Professor of Poetry at the University of Essex from 2010 to 2013.   He won a MacArthur “genius” award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry, and many other literary honours.  He died in St Lucia in 2017.

bar-green
Composed in free verse, without rhyme or any regular poetic metre, this lovely short poem celebrates the self as finally accepting who and what we are.  Life experience can bring sadness, but there is hope for redemption and an optimistic future.  We can and do change, and are ultimately able to show our true self.

bar-green

Love After Love – Poem by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

bar-green

Below are links to two, quite different, readings of this poem from YouTube . . .

‘Love After Love’ read by Tim Hidddlestone

‘Love After Love’ read by David Whyte

bar-green

 

Ted Hughes – ‘Hawk Roosting’

(No.63 of my favourite short poems)

Ted Hughes, born in Yorkshire in 1930, was Poet Laureate in the last years of the 20th Century, from 1984 until he died in 1998 at the age of 68.   His tempestuous marriage to the American poet, Sylvia Plath, lasted only six years.   Hughes explored this difficult relationship in his last major published work, ‘Birthday Letters’.

As much of his work demonstrates, Hughes was intensely interested in and affected by the natural world.  In ‘Hawk Roosting’, one of his early published poems, he conveys the commanding presence of the hawk looking down on the world, his world, from a place of eminence.  He considers himself as monarch of all he surveys, conveyed so powerfully by Hughes in this poem.

The Hawk

‘The Hawk’ … WHB – Pen & Wash,  2017

Hawk Roosting

I sit in the top of the wood, my eyes closed.
Inaction, no falsifying dream
Between my hooked head and hooked feet:
Or in sleep rehearse perfect kills and eat.

The convenience of the high trees!
The air’s buoyancy and the sun’s ray
Are of advantage to me;
And the earth’s face upward for my inspection.

My feet are locked upon the rough bark.
It took the whole of Creation
To produce my foot, my each feather:
Now I hold Creation in my foot

Or fly up, and revolve it all slowly –
I kill where I please because it is all mine.
There is no sophistry in my body:
My manners are tearing off heads –
The allotment of death.
For the one path of my flight is direct
Through the bones of the living.
No arguments assert my right:

The sun is behind me.
Nothing has changed since I began.
My eye has permitted no change.
I am going to keep things like this.

 

banner-pink

Roger McGough – ‘Poem for a dead poet’

(No.63 of my favourite short poems)

I have published one of Roger McGough’s poem previously in this series.  You will find it by clicking on this link:   ‘Vinegar’ . . .   Below is another of his poems which I very much enjoy, this time a short elegy for an unnamed poet.  Written in a simplistic style, the poem nevertheless, with both wit and precision, goes straight to the heart of what a poet does and what s/he seeks to be.

Poets Corner

‘Poem for a dead poet’

He was a poet he was.

A proper poet.

He said things

that made you think

and said them nicely.

He saw things

that you or I

could never see

and saw them clearly.

He had a way

with language.

Images flocked around

him like birds.

St. Francis, he was,

of the words. Words?

Why he could almost make ‘em talk.

 

Roger McGough

 

scroll2

VAN GOGH by Mervyn Peake

(No.55 of my favourite short poems)
Mervyn Peake-Self Portrait

Mervyn Peake (1911 – 1968) … Self-Portrait

VAN GOGH   . . .  by Mervyn Peake

Dead, the Dutch Icarus who plundered France
And left her fields the richer for our eyes.
Where writhes the cypress under burning skies,
Or where proud cornfields broke at his advance,
Now burns a beauty fiercer than the dance
Of primal blood that stamps at throat and thighs.
Pirate of sunlight! and the laden prize
Of coloured earth and fruit in summer trance
Where is your fever now? and your desire?
Withered beneath a sunflower’s mockery,
A suicide you sleep with all forgotten.
And yet your voice has more than words for me
And shall cry on when I am dead and rotten
From quenchless canvases of twisted fire

Van Gogh-Wheatfield With Cypresses

Wheat Field With Cypresses, 1889 by Vincent Van Gogh

bar-green

BUKOWSKI … a Crazy Life

QB Van3

Van Inscription:  BUKOWSKI – some people never go crazy – what truly horrible lives they must lead’   ©

Henry Charles Bukowski (1920 – 1994), was a German-American poet, novelist, and short story writer.  His writing was influenced by the social, cultural, and economic ambience of his home city of Los Angeles.  His work addresses the ordinary lives of poor Americans, the act of writing, alcohol, relationships with women, and the drudgery of work. (Wikipedia)

Bukowski has become something of a cult hero.  For some, his life-style, his aphorisms, the spirit imaged in his poetry, have become a way of life.  An image of one such itinerant was caught on camera by a Canadian friend on the Pacific coast of British Columbia.  This photograph occasioned my verse below . . .

BUKOWSKI

my life I confess
in my poetry
it is the vagrant life
tale of a loafer
lowlife laureate
being a bummer
suited me
no carbon copy
king of the underground
pulp-fiction hero
I made the running
took to my heels and
ran with the wind
lusted after life
stopped on a whim
ate when the food was there
or I stood still
and hungered
took my fill of loving
the casual way
I didn’t try
kept a wandering eye
the man who got lucky
lay in wait for inspiration
caught a glimpse of Paradise
nurtured that bluebird in my heart
laughed and scorned
smoked the weed that thrills
loved the life that kills
lived it
versified it
crucified it
until it crucified me.

Find What You Love

Bukowski

Charles Bukowski

QB Van2a

The ‘Bukowski’ van parked on the seafront on Vancouver Island, B.C.   Photographs of the van are by courtesy of Canadian artist, Alma Kerr. ©

bar152